Monday, 28 February 2011

Monday's question

How do Johnson's make their talcum powder smell like babies?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sarcasm? What's that, like?

Clark Whelton's amusing piece on the decline and fall of American English, and stuff is worth a gander.

Here, in the North East of England, the word "like" has been used as a full stop, "umm" replacement, and filler for many years.

Likewise, "sort of" has been littering sentences around the Middlesbrough conurbation since, at least, the 1980s.

An alarming trend to join the two has emerged in recent years. "I was, sort of like, saying to him, I said, sort of like, what you up to, like, I said, and he, sort of like, said, he said, I sort of like ..."

Sometimes, that's all I hear. "Blah, sort of like, blah, sort of like, blah blah, sort of like, blah, sort of like ..." Once I'm tuned in, I'm left floundering as the meaning of the sentences disappear beneath a sea of "sort of like"s.

But peculiar to this region - perhaps Liverpool too - is the use of "like" as a sarcastic signpost. Flagging the point, combining with tone - often underlining a rhetorical question -  to push home the opinion that the recipient is somewhat less than brilliant. Sometimes "like" will even reverse the meaning of the sentence up to that point.

When you read the following examples, remember to drop your voice at least an octave when saying the word "like". It's the opposite of up-speak? Where you raise the pitch so everything becomes a question? I think you'll get the idea?

Examples:
On seeing a man with a huge gash in his head:
Bob, "I think he needs stitches."
Eve, "What are you, some kind of surgeon, like?"

On seeing the corpse of a dog in the road:
Bob, "I think it's dead."
Eve, "You a vet now, like?"

And so on. Quite useful then?

Anyway, it's Saturday, the garden wont ignore itself.

Here's wishing you peace, happiness and a great weekend.
Eve, "You turned into Mahatma Ghandi, like?"
Oh, shut up.
Eve, "Good comeback, like."
I'm off.
Eve, "Hurry back, like."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Badgered

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Today I learned something new about my Cocker Spaniel, Lily. She is scared of badgers.

What I learned about myself is this: I’m a dumb-ass who’d be lucky to be half as intelligent as my dog, because she knows that badgers are vicious little devils who have no concept of the word friend.

I also learned:
1) Don’t offer a badger a mint. They prefer fingers.
2) Don’t attempt to reason with a badger. They consider every word a personal insult demanding immediate satisfaction.
3) Over less than twenty yards and a five foot wall, put your money on me, not Lily or a badger.

What’s a badger doing up and about in the middle of the day anyway? Aren’t they nocturnal or something? Don’t they prefer slippy-smooth worms to large hairy humans? Perhaps it couldn’t sleep. That would explain the bad temper.

Lily’s due another walk and doesn’t look too keen. If I’m not back in two hours call in the Dachshunds.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Time to fess up about the Crusader Challenge

I've never had erinaceous (like, as or pertaining to a hedgehog) hair. It has never spiked. I had waving hair.

Now it's waving goodbye.

Most commented on - sneezing when thoughts turn to matters libidinous - is true. That's not to say I'm prone to debilitating bouts of sternutation at the sight of every well-turned ankle. Crikey, I'd never get the shopping done. No, it's pretty infrequent. Just often enough for me to notice a correlation. And make me do a little research, where I found we, us human male folk anyway, have erectile tissue in our noses. Makes you think about Pinocchio's psyche a little differently, huh?

There's the doorbell. I'd best go, it may be the Avon Lady.

Gesundheit.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Crusader challenge

Over at Rach Writes ... there's a crusader challenge. It's a getting to know you exercise. So why not.


I have to tell you: one secret, one lie, one interesting quirk, one annoying habit, one of my best character traits, and one of my favourite things in the whole world. Not necessarily in that order.

I surfed in the world championships in the 70's. At that time I had erinaceous hair. I've never been unfaithful. I grind my teeth (even when surfing).  Lascivious thoughts make me sneeze. I have a weakness for Theakstone's Old Peculiar. I pilfered a penknife from Woolworths in Blackpool when I was ten, and have felt guilty ever since. I forgot, in a quirky way, about the words bloviate, fuliguline, rabbit, and blade, and  - I've just noticed -  the .. umm .. word count. 

Can you guess the lie?
(Just as well it's the taking part and not the winning that's important.)

What Ho! I write like ...


I write like
P. G. Wodehouse
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!


Snork! 

Friday, 18 February 2011

Critiqued

Theresa over at EditTorrent chose a small, hundred and fifty word extract from my WIP to critique.

Interesting to see how the mind of a pro works when editing.

Take a look around her blog - some good stuff for writer types.

Frakkensakken clouds


Very near the top of my 'to see' list is the Aurora Borealis, and a rare chance to observe this phenomenon has been afforded those of us who live in the North of England.

Helios, it seems, isn't well, and is vomiting vast, planet-sized chunks of plasma as we speak.

As Earth doesn't have a 'duck and roll' button, we're stuck in the firing line, which means, yay!, all that gooey plasma will splash against our magnetic field and upper atmosphere causing Northern Lights to be visible farther South than usual.

So I sat out last night.

But the frakkensakken clouds wouldn't go away.

So I saw diddly-squat.

Which was disappointing.

Clouds upon clouds. Disappointment on disappointment, because last night, I was looking to the heavens to cheer me up after reading a really dreadful review on Amazon UK for The Ardly Effect.

A magazine review had compared the book to Douglas Adams, and this really annoyed the reviewer. He wanted to, "... knock it down a peg." Actually I totally agree, TAE is nowhere near as good as HGTTG. Not even close. But I didn't write that.

He also said, "'Mitis Green' is a pen name concocted presummably to hide the author's embarassment." (his spelling)

Ouch!

I know it's just a review. I know personal attacks from reviewers who can't even spell should be ignored. But still ... it makes me doubt all those good reviews. Were they just being nice? How many of them actually 'got' the questions: what is consciousness? Is a man's head on a woman's body a man or a woman? (What is it to be your gender?) As power comes to us all in the form of enabling technology, who decides who gets what? Should technology be censored for some? What happens if reality TV is taken to its logical extreme? etc, etc. Coddling big questions in bright wrappers of humour may be a big mistake. Or maybe I'm just crap at writing.

And what are my motives in sharing this stuff? In sharing these doubts ...?

To show you, who experience similar, it wont stop me. And neither should it stop you if you suffer a couple of  less than generous reviews.

I'll be glum today. But tonight? Tonight I'll see the Northern Lights, and be put firmly in my place as the tiniest of specks. A tiny speck awestruck by vomit from the Gods. And then I'll carry on writing because .. I have to.

And besides, it's the weekend tomorrow.

Have a great one.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Remembering Spike

This dude on stage,
Ageing, lithe, in a rage.

Was there raising money
To save a tree.

What made him so very mad
Was his jokes were so very bad

That no one laughed.
Just coughed.

But he had a bat,
And a dummy with a hat,
Which he beat with a fervour
Until our laughter
Was enough.

It was Spike
At the mike.

I hope another Milligan
Will soon rise up again.
I miss that funny man.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Reviewlette - Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

A crime thriller with a good helping of voodoo thrown in. Based in and around New York, a police officer and his FBI colleague investigate the murder of a friend by someone declared dead a few days previously.

The chapters are short, the action is fast, there's a light sprinkling of humour, it's very easy to read.

Apparently there's a series based on the FBI character, Pendergast. This is my first time reading from this collection and it was completely self contained, so it seems you could dip in anywhere.

The characters are quite ethereal, no depth whatsoever. It's all about pace and plot. And the narrative voice is quite sterile. Perhaps 'efficient' would be a more accurate, and kinder, word. Like a scalpel, which is both sterile and efficient, cutting to the meat of the story with no fuss.

Not a future classic then but a good holiday read for when you're sat under a palm, sipping a tequila sunrise and occasionally squinting through the heat haze to the far blue horizon. (Yes, I'm sick of winter!)

Read it when you have a chance. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Narrative voice

I'm experimenting with a new narrative voice. I'd be interested in knowing what you think. This is an extract from Tom's Diary...

With Bert gone off to Newcastle upon Tyne, Des had another spare room at the King Willie. 
  From a distance, the King William Pub looks like a solid cube of York stone that had stood on the same spot since the dinosaurs used it as a scratch-pole. Get closer and you'll see the huge, tightly interlaced blocks of stone, window frames hewn from raw rock, and a slate, multi-sloped roof, prickling with fancy chimneys.
  The car park is gravel, and leads to a one acre field in which you'll find either sheep or a car boot sale. Sometimes both.
  Inside, the King Willie is all dark beams, old dark furniture and bar, and wildly patterned carpets.
  There's only one working fireplace. All the other fireplaces have been blocked off. Des reckons there are some beauties behind the plaster in the bedrooms and one day he'll get round to restoring them all. One day.
  The King Willie's spare room overlooks the dairy farm at the back through a large double window. It, the room, had been used as a general storage space, so Des donned an immaculate boiler-suit and gave it a good clear-out. He used Bert's old bedroom as the store instead. The newly cleared room didn't have an en suit but it was very spacious and on a good day you could see over the dairy farm and clear across the rolling green fields to the brown topped Cleveland Hills in the distance. Des painted 'B & B' in white on a black board and nailed it to the outside of the pub. It raised a few eyebrows, mine among them. We don't get a lot of passing trade through Kickingwall so we were a bit sceptical of the new venture's success. But Des wasn't daft and had another two signs made. Very similar to the one he nailed to his front wall but with a fancy arrow underneath pointing the way.
  He put one near the busy A1 and one in the other direction at the last roundabout before Darlo. And that same Saturday, there was a customer.
  You know in the old cowboy movies, when the stranger comes into town, and pushes open those little swing doors into the saloon, it goes quiet and everyone turns round and looks at him? It's a bit like that in The King Willie in Kickingwall. Whenever it happens, I can't help it, I have to snort into my beer and whistle tootie-tootie-tooo - whistle in my head, of course.
  It was on a Saturday evening, Middlesbrough were playing at home on the big screen over the pool table at The King Willie. I was pretending to listen to Claire. We were back on by that time and not yet engaged. I was watching the football over her shoulder. Not as dangerous as you'd think. If Claire had a fault it was her need to share the latest book she'd read. She just loved to talk about the plot and characters and what have you. But the thing is: she knew she was being boring. She knew that describing what happens, in great detail, in a book to someone is far removed from discussing a book with someone. But she couldn't help herself. She'd finish a book, a Georgette Heyer or a Harold Robbins and want to tell it all to someone. And, most of the time, I was that someone. We had an unspoken understanding: she could stand and talk at me, let it all out, ask rhetorical questions etc. and I'd stand more or less facing her and nod and say, 'Uh hu,' or glance at the world going by or the TV or watch her lips and perfect teeth and tongue, and have very rude thoughts, and the understanding was that she wouldn't suddenly accuse me of not listening or ask me a question that needed answering. Sounds strange now I write it down but that's what we did. That's the way it was.
  Anyway, I remember this Saturday because when the stranger walked in, everyone stopped talking and turned to look at the poor guy except Claire. She was so engrossed in telling me about a book - she had a hand lightly touching my chest, a habit of hers which made me love her even more - that she didn't notice and just kept talking into the silence. She must have heard her own lone voice coming back at her because she eventually stopped and turned to see who had just come in.
  A middle-aged man in a grey suit carrying a fat briefcase stood in the door. Tootie-tootie-tooo.
  I'd like to say there was a roll of thunder and a flash of lightning from the darkness behind him, but there wasn't. He just said, 'Good evening,' in a nice friendly manner and came up to the bar.
  Behind the bar, Des, slick backed hair and dressed in his white shirt, fancy publican's waistcoat and razor creased black trousers said, 'What can I get you?'
  'I saw the B and B sign outside,' said the stranger, 'and wondered if you had a spare room and how much.'
  Des allowed himself a smug look at us and we eyebrow bobbed and nodded, yes, you were right, back at him. 'This way,' said Des, holding up the flap into the bar. 'I'll show you the room. It's got a lovely view and it's at the back of the pub so is nice and quiet. Will you be staying long?' The stranger followed Des through the bar, into the back and up the stairs. Half way up Des shouted down, 'Claire, would you  mind?'
  Clair called back, 'No problem, Des.' Claire sometimes looked after the bar when Des and Margaret were busy. Aunty Margaret, Mrs Pritchard, was away at a teacher's conference in Manchester, I remember.
  After a while, Des and the new bloke appeared and it was obvious he'd taken the room. Turned out his name was Bruce Willis, same as the actor, and he sold some kind of chemical to farmers. He never used the word but I think it was fertilizer.
  He drank vodka and tonic and was friendly enough, if a little dull. When he offered me and Claire a drink we made our excuses and went back to my place where I got to second base, got slapped, got forgiven and got to walk Claire home. That night, once again, I had testicles like blue pomegranates.
  Back in The King Willie: Meg, Big Andy, Jean and Dr Bagshaw were playing dominoes. At two pence a go it was a serious business and Dr Bagshaw got the huff complaining that Andy wasn't playing properly.
  Big Andy the butcher rumbled, 'If I'm not playing properly, how come I've got all your two pence pieces, like?'
  'I don't know,' said Dr Bagshaw. He looked at his watch. 'Anyway, it's late. I'd better be off.' He pointed at Andy, 'Come and see me about that back of yours tomorrow. Alright?' That was very naughty of Dr Bagshaw because there was nothing wrong with Andy's back. Everyone in the village except little Jean knew that it was just a small deception Andy used to get out of various household chores.
  Andy looked sheepish - a good trick for a bloke with a face like a Shire horse. 'All right,' he said.
  Jean put a tender hand on her husband's arm. 'Are you suffering, darling?'
  Andy patted her hand. 'I'm fine, pet. Really.'
  'Goodnight all,' said Dr Bagshaw, and left.
  After the 'goodnights' had died down Bruce Willis asked if he could sit in. 'I don't mind a game of dominos,' he said.
  'Take a seat,' said Meg. So Bruce did. That's how Bruce met Meg. Poor Meg.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Make my day and blow the bloody doors off!

Who said, “Go ahead, make my day.”?

Okay, smarty-pants. Who said, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”?

Oh really? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to?

Don't know about you, but when I read the above movie extracts, I find it hard to imagine any actor other than Clint, Mike or Bobby saying those lines.

Actors have personalties which they bring along, and this simple and obvious fact can be very useful for us writer types.

Here's a thought: let them star in your book.

Three actors who have starred in many of my short stories and novels are Sean Connery, Ray Winstone and Gwyneth Paltrow.

There's something about these guys – in my tiny mind at least – that prevents them from saying things in any way other than a way that suits them uniquely.

Huh?

Okay. This is what I do: I cast a star or well known – by me – actor as a character in my story. When I write the dialogue, I picture them saying these words. Does this fit the actor? Can I see the actor saying these words? I will often change dialogue simply because Ray Winstone – for example – looks odd saying, “Could you pass the salt, please.” (I can see Hugh Grant saying that.) No, our Ray could say, “Pass the bleedin' salt.” Easily.

You see this happening in long running soaps. As they get to know them, the writers start to write for the actor playing the character.

So there you go.

I've found this tip very useful for bringing uniqueness, personality and consistency to my character's dialogue. And to a lesser extent, their actions.

Let me know your thoughts – as if they were said aloud by (the utterly fantastic) Dame Maggie Smith.

I'll be back.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Wind

Pic pinched from girlfromthehills.wordpress.com
While Malawi trends on Twitter because of this - the wind's really blowing here in North Yorkshire.

It's from the East, which means my gargantuan, untamed, laurel hedge is protecting the conservatory, but the roof is making noises like it wants to escape.

None of this is helping as I'm stuck on a very important scene where two politicians are at odds. It wont be funny, gall-dern-it!

Strolling around Richmond yesterday I was pounced on by a 'fan' - so called because they blow smoke up your ar$e, I suspect.

"Hey Mr Green, sir. How's the next book coming. Me an' the boys can 'ardly wait. Har, har. Geddit?"
"Yes. Really funny. Oh, is that the time ..." I zoomed off as fast as my slightly gouty left foot would allow. I say gout because rich blokes get gout through drinking too much expensive port. I suspect my gout's more to do with kicking the ground instead of the football last Tuesday.

Anyway, don't be too impressed by my 'fan'. He's the only person in the entire county to have actually read The Ardly Effect, enjoyed it, and coincidentally, resides in the home for the psychologically challenged I volunteered in once last summer.

Anyway, I can't concentrate while this gale threatens to take me to Kansas.

I think I'll walk the dog into the fields. There's a spot far from any obstructions where you can open your arms and see how far you can lean into the wind.

In the meantime, listen to Muddy Waters, Blow wind blow, because that's what I'll have plugged into my ears as I face-plant the mud.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

One synopsis, several synopses.

Pic nicked from Ripping Ozzie Reads

I was over at BookEnds a few minutes ago. The blog was from a literary agent receiving a submission that excluded the synopsis despite her request for one. The author claimed, "The synopsis is too hard to write."

Interesting, me thinks. I write a synopsis first. Even if I don't know how the piece is going to end, I'll still write a synopsis. A cut-down version of which, could grace the back cover of the final, beautifully published and well received book (quietly selling in millions and available from all book stores, good and bad, I thenk yaw).

Try it. Write your synopsis before you finish the first draft of the ms.

If you're like me, after you finish your novel, you'll have to tweak the synopsis to cater for changes made to the main story. Still, it will have served as a useful tool for getting the big picture / overview, and help you keep on track. It's also nice to have when someone asks, "What's your book about then?"

But then again, I'm the type who ponders for months before putting pen to paper, so pretty much know what's what before I start. I know some of you don't. So, umm, please disregard everything I say.

A summary of your thoughts?

(Click on the book picture to go to Ozzie Reads and some advice about how to write your synopsis.)